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School board members talk levy

Cary Ashby • Oct 19, 2013 at 10:07 PM

Norwalk school board members and the superintendent are talking turkey about the levy they hope voters will support on the November ballot.

In July, the board voted 3-2 to go forward with a 1.25-percent earned income tax. There was much discussion among board members, who had to schedule a special meeting after its regular meeting to make a decision. The tax would replace the present, traditional, half-percent tax that has been in place since the early 1990s and would last a "continuing amount of time."

An informational community meeting called "What is happening in our schools?" is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center at Norwalk High School.

"Our levy committee has been targeting retired residents and fixed-income families. We've had numerous levy meetings open to the public and we will continue holding these meetings, hoping our residents will attend and become informed," board member Ralph Ritzenthaler said.

Ritzenthaler wants voters to know this levy isn't a property tax.

"Many residents of our school district agree that the school is in need of additional revenue due to cuts in funding. Residents have asked for an alternative method of taxing -- something other than a property tax," he said.

"The earned income tax will help many folks in our district (who) are struggling, especially retired (residents) or those (who) recently lost their job. Simply put, you are only taxed on earned income, which is wages, salaries and self-employment income," Ritzenthaler said.

For board member Steve Linder, the most important thing voters should know is the levy is based on "earned" income -- not the "traditional" income tax. (See the box for a breakdown of earned vs. unearned income.)

"When this levy passes, this will actually be giving a break to retirees and unemployed workers, due to the 'earned' income tax replacing the current 'traditional' income tax," Linder said.

Superintendent Dennis Doughty said the earned income tax "protects the senior citizen from additional school taxes."

"This alternative was created by the legislature as an alternative-type tax," he said. "Retirement income, workman's comp, unemployment comp and interest income are excluded from the (earned income) tax.

"This is the third try by the board to find a solution to the funding situation in the Norwalk City Schools," the superintendent said.

"There have been many cuts that have taken place in order for the district to survive 21 years since the last local operating funds were approved. In order to maintain our academic programs, there is a need for additional funding. Currently, approximately one-third of the funding per students is supplied through the local funding," Doughty said.

The levy committee has been handing out literature at school functions, open houses, grandparent's breakfasts, PTO Fun Fair. Members also have been distributing yard signs and T-shirts.

"We are just starting our door-to-door campaign to registered voters. It is very important to note that the monies that have been spent on this campaign are coming from the 'Committee to Support the Levy.' John Lendrum's wife Erin is the treasurer if anyone would like to donate money," Linder said.

School officials said there's no doubt the district needs more revenue.

"I think the citizens realize that there is the need for more funding. 1991 is a long time ago," Doughty said.

"The challenge is convincing people that spending money on schools is an investment into the future of our young people. It is a real challenge since there is little discretionary funds available and people have had to tighten their own budgets appreciably," he added.

Board members consider the loss of revenue from the state and continued deficit-spending some of the biggest challenges in passing the levy.

"Our last operating levy passed 22 years ago in 1991. The biggest challenge is getting people to realize that Norwalk City Schools has lost operating funds in excess of $2 million annually since 2008 from the state of Ohio. We are currently in deficit spending and we will soon run out of the money we have in reserves, Linder said.

The district's five-year forecast continues to show deficit spending.

"(That is) even with all the cuts that have been made. We have not had a raise from our voters since 1991," Ritzenthaler said.

He said voters essentially should view passing this levy as the school system asking for a raise from their bosses.

"As families know, their expenses rise and so does ours. When you need a raise, the wage-earner in the family goes to the employer to ask for one. We are going to our boss -- the taxpayer," Ritzenthaler said.

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Earned income (which would be part of the tax) includes:

Wages, salaries and self-employment income

Unearned income (which would NOT be part of the tax) includes:

Retirement income

Unemployment compensation

Worker's compensation

Profit from rental activities

Distribution from trusts and estates


S-Corp distributive share profits

Trust and estate distribution

Lottery winnings


Capital gains


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